The Numbers Don’t Lie: Why Conor McGregor is Worth so Much to The UFC

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor with UFC's Lightweight and Featherweight Championships

While 2016 was a record year for UFC pay-per-views (PPV) with all previous figures shattered, one man stood out head and shoulders above his peers in “the numbers game”.

At the beginning of last year, the UFC’s financial forecasters would have looked towards Conor McGregor’s defense of his featherweight title, the UFC 200 card and the return of Ronda Rousey as reasons to get excited. While McGregor never did defend the featherweight strap, he did take part in the highest grossing PPV in the history of MMA (UFC 202)…but that was not all.

‘The Notorious’  was instrumental in bringing in a total of 4,217,000 PPV buys for the UFC last year (UFC 196, 202 and 205). As mentioned, the biggest of them all was UFC 202, which saw the rematch of McGregor vs Nate Diaz at welterweight.

The grand total of cards which were headlined by McGregor in 2016 was 50.3% of the total year’s PPV buys. UFC 205 once again broke records in MMA and Madison Square Garden gate records (amassing $17.7m). With number such as these, it is not hard to see why the Dubliner stands out from his peers in terms of his fight purses.

Ronda Rousey’s UFC 207 return on Dec 30 brought in over 1.1m PPV buys, which are good numbers by anyone’s estimation. UFC 200, despite having no McGregor or Jon Jones on the card, ranked 5th in the top 5 of PPV sales. UFC 200 ranked 4th, while McGregor’s headlining shows took the 1st, 2nd & 3rd spots on the list. It is hard to envisage any fighter having the same drawing power as McGregor for a long time.

The total figure for the year stands at 8,370,000, with 5 of the 13 cards in 2016 surpassing 1 million sales.

2017 does not look as though it will be as rosy for the UFC. With “The Notorious” out of action due to the expected birth of his first child, he may only fight once in the year. Ronda Rousey’s downward career trajectory will lose her the star power she had, while no one else is really standing out as a potential successor for either fighter.

MMA Fighting’s Dave Meltzer highlights how stars are what bring in the numbers in the UFC these days, over genuine championship bouts:

‘Never have the individual stars, in this case McGregor, Rousey and possibly Brock Lesnar, meant more, and never have solid championship fights meant less.’

With such uncertainty surrounding the UFC’s biggest stars (doubts over Rousey’s career, McGregor’s hiatus, Lesnar & Jones’ ban) can we expect to see an emphasis on the over-promotion of some of the big-name (but lesser known to the masses) fighters on the UFC’s books? If the company is to make anywhere near the sums they did last year, they will need a new star to emerge, and to emerge fast. Who that name will be will certainly rely on their marketability outside of the octagon, as much as their success within it.